House panel passes historic bill to study reparations

The move marks the first time the House Judiciary Committee has acted on the decades-long effort.

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A panel in the House of Representatives has passed legislation to create a federal commission to study the issue of reparations.

The historic move marks the first time that the House Judiciary Committee has acted on the decades-long effort.

Texas Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee (above) spearheaded the bill, which would create a commission that would examine slavery and discrimination in America from 1619 to the present. (Photo by Al Drago/Getty Images)

Despite the historic success, just the creation of a committee to study reparations for the descendants of millions of enslaved Africans led to a lengthy debate in the U.S. House and passed by only 25-17, with all Republicans opposed.

The bill could be on the House floor for a vote by this summer.

Texas Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee spearheaded the bill, which would create a commission that would examine slavery and discrimination in America from 1619 to the present. It would decide how Americans are educated on the atrocity, consider a formal national apology and consider compensation to descendants. Currently, the legislation has its most co-sponsors ever in the House: 176.

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Late Michigan Rep. John Conyers first introduced the bill — known as H.R. 40 — in 1989, and he brought it forth in Congress annually. The 40 represents the 40 acres and a mule long promised to freed enslaved people at the Civil War’s conclusion.

Conyers left Congress in 2017 and passed away in 2019.

“This legislation is long overdue,” said New York Rep. Jerry Nadler, the Democratic chairman of the committee. “H.R. 40 is intended to begin a national conversation about how to confront the brutal mistreatment of African Americans during chattel slavery, Jim Crow segregation, and the enduring structural racism that remains endemic to our society today.”

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The bill would be subject to filibuster and would require 60 votes in the Senate to pass. Republicans remain unanimously opposed. Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan said the creation of the commission would lead to a foregone conclusion to endorse reparations.

“Spend $20 million for a commission that’s already decided to take money from people who were never involved in the evil of slavery, and give it to people who were never subject to the evil of slavery,” Jordan argued. “That’s what Democrats on the Judiciary Committee are doing.”

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While enslavement ended over 100 years ago, Democrats are hoping to remind lawmakers that the legacy remains in nation’s deep structural racism. While the creation of a federal commission may still be out of reach, local municipalities are taking action.

Last month, Evanston, Illinois became the first city in the U.S. to offer its Black residents reparations in the form of $25,000 for home repairs, down payments on home purchases and payment toward interest or late fees on their property.

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